Thursday, January 22, 2009

Sundance Dispatch #6

The last half of the Sundance Film Festival is quite different from the first in terms of circus. Most revelers and scenesters are gone by Monday leaving only those in for the long haul. The lines die down and the whole town in general begins a sigh of relief. Sensing this, and coupled with the anticipation of coming home, my notes grow smaller and the response more muted. That said, I'll leave the criticism to others who might more carefully dissect these films. As a journal goes, here is the last few days of screenings:

Paul Giamatti plays himself in something not unlike BEING JOHN MALKOVICH meets THE DEATH OF MR LAZARESCU. Unable to dredge up the umph to perform a two-week run of Chekhov, he seeks to store his soul (yes, really) courtesy a newly developed company featured in that month's New Yorker with the idea that this will give him a clean slate. Giamatti is fantastic - a pleasure to watch in this offbeat oddity.

Doc on the Doors. No real revelations here other than some good studio footage and some unseen live stuff. Of particular note is what appears to be a detailed restoral of Morrison's film dalliances. The 16mm transfer looks at times like HD, but the narration and archival summation of the Vietnam War over the climax of "The End" is a bit awkward, if not chronologically incorrect.

Distribution Panel at Prospector Square - Don't get me started. You with the smirk who heads a mini-major, talks about community but avoids the art house and, by your own indirect admission, could give a damn about theatrical distribution: Sure, you've seen some ups and downs, but don't you think you might be in the wrong job now? The rolling of your eyes reveals your inability to accept the changes around you. You are in the way. Just go.

Devastating eco-doc about dolphin slaughter in a small Japanese coastal village, THE COVE follows the man who brought us "Flipper" as he seeks to undo the industry that he helped spawn. Perhaps best at home as a Frontline special, any lack of theatrical sensibility shouldn't detract attention from the subject matter at hand. It's put a serious challenge to certain dietary indulgences - like a bitter pill washed down with salt water dyed in Valentine red.

Like THE SEPTEMBER ISSUE, there's joy in the discovery through documentary of things that one knows little to nothing about. In this case, Chris Rock is the host of feature-length inquiry into the mystery of hair - primarily that of black women and weaves. Weaves come from India and run anywhere from $1000-3500? I had no idea, and that's just one tidbit.

Man, wife and child go completely enviro-impact-free for a year. No plastic, subway, coffee and everything else you could possibly imagine. The fatigue of 17 films in 3 days sets in. I resolve to pace myself and leave early. Nothing against the film...just prepping for another 4 days and the big inauguration in the morning. They're putting a screen out on Main Street...

More LA excess a la SPREAD but a bit more entertaining since we at least have Mickey Rourke.

I thought they already re-made THE BAD NEWS BEARS. They did! But not with Sam Rockwell and a high school girls basketball team. Unfortunately, what could have been a lot funnier kinda misses the mark.

Considering the liberation of Nelson Mandela and abolishment of apartheid starring William Hurt and Chiwetel Ejiofor as Thabo Mbeki. Consolidated Gold, convinced that a peaceful resolution in South Africa serves their interest, sets up talks to advance this agenda which becomes a template for similar negotiations around the world.

Blaxploitation of blaxploitation, if you will. And funny as hell. Big Sony picked the film up for distribution during the festival and they'll put it in wide release sometime soon...

As far as films about the Irish conflict goes, I'll take HUNGER which is coming this spring. James Nesbitt and Liam Neeson play two men from the same town, but divided by the politic and the murder of a brother.

Bobcat Goldthwait directs Robin Williams as a high-school teacher who is fighting the uphill battle with a deeply troubled son whose sexual deviances ultimately cost him his life. Williams redesigns his death as a suicide and must struggle to reconcile his son's bloated image in a school that formerly ignored him. Think HAPPINESS meets ELECTION.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Sundance Dispatch #5

Just finished dinner after my last full day at the festival and I'm behind on my updates. My head is spinning largely with conversations about the new direction of distribution, how filmmakers find and connect with a film viewing public in the era of product on demand and how that impacts theatrical distribution of films. I have moments of excitement and moments of terror when the back and forth occurs but am eager to make sure that independent art house theatres have a voice in the conversation. It has been a treat to be here with our seventeen art house colleagues and to begin to formalize a network of like minded community based film houses from around the country to act as a force in the field and a support for each other to ensure that at the end of the day you—our loyal and fantastic Belcourt audience, gets to continue to watch great films from the brave souls out there fighting the good fight to make the kind of movies we love to show.

Now for the films…


Kicking off my day of romance…British film of love lost, gained and struggled over. Lots of beautiful strangers and good music in a parallel story about two young foreigners living in a squat in London. The intersection of their stories is a lovely moment in a familiar feeling film.


Toby largely covered this but I definitely second the Michael Cera thoughts and you’ll have to see it to draw your own opinion on whether knowing it’s fiction as documentary works for you or not. Some great laugh out loud moments for me.


Sort of He’s Just Not That Into You for the indie set. Fun performances by Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt (the kid from Third Rock from the Sun all grown up and leading man-ey) in a good old date night movie (sorry guys).

Lots of love this year…ready for some grim reality frankly.


Nick Hornby’s newest script following Holly-Go-Lightly look alike Jenny (Carey Mulligan) as a young, bright sixteen year old who’s hungry for the world but pushed by her father (Alfred Molina) to excel academically so she can get into Oxford. She meets the handsome stranger and a journey ensues. It’s got great performances including small appearances by Emma Thompson and Sally Hawkins (of Happy Go Lucky fame) and feels liken an interesting departure for Hornby. No grim reality yet...we'll see what's up next.

Couple more to go before bed so I'll update from the airport as I come home to what better be a nice warm Nashville. Or else.

Stephanie Silverman

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Sundance Dispatch #4

So, it's dinnertime on Sunday and there are a few more films to go tonight. Given a few minutes, here is another round with a little overlap from Stephanie's last post. I had a picture to post, but I thought it in questionable taste. E-mail me if you want to see...

Concerning overweight endurance swimmer Martin Strel whose daily routine consists of 30-50k swims, driving on two bottles of wine and being Slovenia's biggest celebrity/ambassador, BIG RIVER MAN follows his biggest feat yet. Having smashed world records swimming the Yangtze and the Mississippi among others, Martin surprises everyone (including his son who provides a perfect narration for the doc) by announcing that his next feat will be the mighty Amazon. With film crew in tow - and Nashville's James Claur DP'ing the Brazilian leg - BIG RIVER MAN enters its main section with a rotating helicopter shot over the rainforest with an aurual wall of feedback (score by N'ville native Rich Ragsdale), one immediately senses the impending Herzogian slow ride to crazyland.

Chronicling the months leading up to Vogue's voluminous September issue, this slick doc reveals the highest order of the world's fashion scene as it ko-tows to its apparent overlord, the "ice queen" pixie magazine chief Anna Wintour whose career beginnings in the swinging London of the 60s are still evident in her Anna Karina haircut and who has the world's top designers and models quivering in their oversized scarves. Having taken in three dude movies in a row, I'm confident enough in my masculinity to admit that I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Hard to add too much to the statements of the last dispatch and I'm having trouble dredging up a pithy response. Me like movie. Soccer good game. Agent sleaze feed on naive hicks.

The word 'vaccuous' evidently escapes player-turned-gigilo Aston Kutcher by the girl who hustles as well as he. An apt word for the film in general. Set among the pretty people in L..A., SPREAD is every bit as vacant as its subjects.

Often times, walking into a film having read nothing about it can yield the more pleasant of surprises, especially following a load of crap like SPREAD. This one follows a divorcee and her teenage son from the West Bank to a new life with her sister's family in a small town south of Chicago just as the US invades Iraq. Of course one can guess what lay in store, but the film's celebratory ending signals a cinematic parallel worthy of its timely arrival on the cusp of a new era in America. Did that make sense?

It's a look at Lil Wayne's ever-mobile inner sanctum which consists primarily of ESPN, a laptop, a microphone and a whole lot of weed and cough syrup and soda cocktails (?), which really should translate into quality entertainment. Being fairly ambivalent about his style, I still was looking forward to it. Having done so, I can safely say that I've had more than enough Lil Wayne for now and I needn't think too much about this curious yet uninspiring documentary.

L.A. comic/musician Charlyne Yi decides to make a movie about love, an elusive idea for this quirky skeptic. Traveling through the country, she interviews primarily older couples who have been together for decades but somewhere along the way meets sweet and equally quirky Michael Cera who becomes a co-star in the film due to their budding relationship. This challenges Yi's detachment and throws a wrench in the director's plans. Without getting into spoilers, let's just say that the real Michael Cera is just like the fictional one and that the director must have seen ZACK AND MIRI MAKE A PORNO sometime around the end of filming.

The Ravens are down 13-0. Good.

Back soon...

--Toby Leonard

Sundance Dispatch #3

Hello all,

Just wrapping up a five film day and a good one at that.


Sixteen year old Precious is faced with unbearable circumstances locked in a world of violence, incest and poverty. Through one opportunity taken she begins to piece together an alternate future for herself. The issues attacked in the film are monumental but the script and the performances keep everything on an honest, human scale. I loved it.


An exploration of the incredible complexity that surrounds free speech. The documentary combines historical cases including the New York Times struggle to publish the Pentagon Papers and contemporary cases including a New York City principal forced to resign after discussion the word "intifada" with a reporter. Very thoughtfully made.


Film maker Eric Daniel Metzgar follows two time Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof to the Congo as he works to pull back the curtain on the world of chaos created by war and poverty much like he did in Darfur. An incredible look into the process of one reporter and his personal mission to create a call to action from his readers.  Fantastic score. 


I was eager to check this out after a day of weighty subjects. R.J. Cutler was given remarkable access to Anna Wintour, editor of Vogue, and her staff as they prepare to publish the hugely important September issue of the magazine. The delight of this documentary was Vogue creative director Grace Coddington who's remarkable eye for storytelling through fashion images is truly remarkable. It was, as expected, a fun watch but the unexpected artistry of Coddington added a richness to the film that was a real treat.


The film reunites Y Tu Mama Tambien costars Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna as brothers who's skill at soccer gets them out of small town Mexico and into the big life as professional athletes in Mexico City. Badly prepared for their success and its associated temptations they struggle with navigating the choppy waters of their own fame.

That's it for today.  Better hit the hay so I can get back to it bright and early tomorrow.  If you have a chance, go check out the video created for the "Live at Sundance" series on the Sundance website. It features our very own Toby Leonard plus a few Belcourt staff and board cameos if you watch closely.

--Stephanie Silverman

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Sundance Dispatch #2

Opening night hoopla aside, we get into the reason for the whole thing, them films.

Behind the rivalry of one-time friends who become famously bitter enemies, it wasn't just the namesake fight that pitted Mohammed Ali against Joe Frazier. For those of us unfamiliar with the backstory, THRILLA gives a detailed insight into one of the greatest fights in history from mostly Frazier's point of view. Thoughts return to James Toback's TYSON (also playing here), the one-sided confessional spin that Ali never had.

In the future, the world's energy problems are solved by mining helium from the moon. All it takes is a HAL-like machine and Sam Rockwell. And Sam Rockwell. And Sam Rockwell again. Take 2001 and SOLARIS, PRIMER and TIMECRIMES, mix them in a blender, throw in a pinch of family life, the Tennessee Titans logo (??), throw it in a blender, garnish it with right-wing radio, and you have MOON.

HUMPDAY is basically a post-mumblecore riff on OLD JOY. It's set in the same region, the same characters, ahem, male-bonding - two old friends: the newlywed and the traveler who shows up one day who even looks similar to Will Oldham - but it's as if they've consciously taken any perceived homoerotic subtext from OLD JOY and ran amok with it. You can almost imagine how the idea for the film came about. It's probably not unlike the scene that sets the film in motion when the two guys, drunk at a small party, decide to make a film on a dare. In the film, it's two straight guys making gay porn, but in reality it's HUMPDAY. The thing is that it's funny as hell and it works.

Kevin Bacon plays a Marine analyst with a degree of guilt over his cozy office job. Feeling inadequate while other Marines fight on the ground in Iraq, he volunteers to escort the body of a fallen soldier from Dover to Wyoming. It's a powerful with a solid performance from Bacon and is for some reason going straight to HBO.

Shortly, I'll be taking in BIG RIVER MAN, which was mentioned a few posts back in our mentions of Nashville representation at this year's festival. Much more to come, and hopefully we'll hear from fearless Belcourt Managing Director Stephanie Silverman who is also here navigating the screenings and black ice on the sidewalk (my poor scraped hand)....

--Toby Leonard

Friday, January 16, 2009

Sundance Dispatch, #1

Ahoy, you 3-degree-weather neighbors....Did we leave at the right time or what? It's a balmy 35 in Park City, UT where the 2009 Sundance Film Festival kicked off last night with the opening night screening of MARY AND MAX, a full-length animated Aussie offering from the filmmaker who brought us the claymation short HARVEY KRUMPET a few years back. Without delving too much into detail, this decidely non-kid-oriented film involved two very lonely pen pals: a nerdy girl in Oz and an overweight New Yorker with Asberger's Syndrome. We're mixed on the result itself, but agree that Philip Seymour Hoffman (voice of New Yorker) can do no wrong.

While the hordes pile in to the snow covered ski town, we're feeling like old hats having already been here for three days. Why? The Art House Convergence, of course. It's what happens when you gather 30+ arthouse delegates in one Salt Lake City hotel and bask in the firing of group synapses. There are independent booksellers organizations, independent grocers and on and on, but there's never been an independent cinema consortium. Spurned on by the Sundance Institute, who initially brought 14 of us together back in '06 for its Art House Project, the group took on a life of its own over the last few years and the Belcourt is proud to be involved in a leadership role.

So went Tuesday and Wednesday in Salt Lake. Yesterday, we had a few morning sessions and then shuttled up to Park City to an opening day industry reception at the New Frontier on Main, the video/art/science/media installation arm of the festival's programming. All we can say is WOW! Personal faves were MOTHER + FATHER, which was basically two separate rooms (separated by gender), each with six monitors/audio channels, each with an iconic actor or actress' excerpted sections from a film where they played a mother or father (think Faye Dunaway in MOMMIE DEAREST or Steve Martin in FATHER OF THE BRIDE). The excerpts played against each other to create a whole that commented on the hilarities and frustrations of parenthood. As they were in 12 minute loops, it was easy to get caught up and not know where it began or ended. By far the most fun was TAMPER: GESTURAL INTERFACE FOR CINEMATIC DESIGN, Oblong Laboratories' exhibit. These are the people that developed the software in MINORITY REPORT whereby Tom Cruise shuffled through mountains of data on a digital screen with the shift on the hand. Two big screens and a ceiling full of sensors allow the gloved user to sort through a handful of full length feature films and pull off set pieces or people and drag them onto a seperate screen, creating their own looped film. Imagine grabbing Charles Bronson from the end of ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST and juxtaposing a two-second grimace into an office complex from PLAYTIME, adding ashtrays from OLDBOY etc - endless fun. I found myself all alone with this this thing and its creators, engrossed in its wonders, when I felt a strange presence behind me (and the heat of a camera) leering at my creation. It was he they call Bob, the whole damn shindig's fatherhead: Robert Redford. Naturally, I stepped aside and gave him the floor. Not one to be starstruck as most of us Nashvillian take pride in avoiding, I couldn't help hiding behind a camera and snapping a pick of the young genius giving Bob the rundown...crappy cell-phone pics. A good day, and we're just getting started.
P.S. - Not to gloat, but would you believe that it's 30 degrees warmer in the high elevations of the Rockies than it is in Nashville? Stay warm...
--Toby Leonard

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Ein, Zwei, DIE !!!

Blame the holidays if you will, or perhaps a degree of slackery, but we've not been active as of late on the posting. That said, there's a lot going on right now as we prepare for the Sundance season which starts with the Art House Convergence in Salt Lake City, Jan-13-15 and then the Sundance Film Festival itself which runs from the 15th through 23rd. But I digress. The real point is that, while combing the interwebs for trailers of Sundance films, we stumbled across the discovery of what could turn out to be the best tag line of 2009, and from a Norwegian midnight offering with hot and horny collegiates, snowmobiles and the graves around a former Nazi outpost. WOW! Sign me up!

Consider this, and check out Trailer Spy for the next round of Sundance flicks.